Is it GAY gay? Where is the romance in ‘Jeweler Richard’?

Update 18th April 2020: This post has been getting a lot of hits lately! And that’s great, but if you do find this post helpful, please consider clicking ‘like’, leaving a comment, or even buying me a coffee (ko-fi button is at the end of the post) to support my work. As a blogger, it’s kind of disheartening to see a post getting tons of hits but no responses, so if you enjoyed this post or any other here, please consider liking or commenting – you can even suggest topics for me to explore if you want to see more posts about Jeweler Richard!

In case you weren’t aware, I’m currently hyper-fixated on ‘The Case Files Of Jeweler Richard’ right now. I have eleven fics on AO3 and more on the way. My tumblr is nothing but screencaps of the anime and analyses of episodes. I even made a custom Funko Pop.

I knew nothing about this series until last December, when I was watching previews of the Winter 2020 anime season, and made a joke about how the preview for TCFOJR gave me ‘gentle gay adventure’ vibes. When episode 2 aired, and Richard said, in no uncertain terms, that he was completely supportive of gay and bi people, set against a story about a gay woman trying to deal with being in a relationship that was seen as ‘unacceptable’, I was over the moon. Hot on the heels of ‘Hoshiai No Sora’ and its explicit validisation of transgender and x-gender people, here was another anime, aimed at a more mature audience, also standing up to say ‘gay rights’. And hinting, also, that one of its lead characters might be gay or bi himself.

I found myself at the heart of a small but growing fandom, and at a time in my life when I absolutely needed something to focus on (I’m currently on annual leave for three weeks with no idea of whether I have a job to go back to in April). Thanks to other fans, I was able to read a translation of the first novel, along with snippets of later books by people frantically trying to share them with other non-Japanese fans.

The novels confirmed what I’d suspected: that the developing relationship between Seigi and Richard was definitely more complex than a platonic friendship.* From the first chapter of the first novel, Seigi is captivated by Richard’s appearance:

“I had never laid eyes on such a beautiful person in my life. High cheekbones, a straight nose, golden hair that had a habit of being loose, smooth white skin. There were shades in those blue eyes, and it felt like I could stare at them forever. A creature who seemed to have gathered all of their parts from the world’s most beautiful people, and they harmonised together with a miraculous balance. Even time, air, and dust particles flowed around this person in a different rhythm. I was about to sincerely believe in that so-called something. That something of fate that began after you helped another – if the other person was a woman.”

That’s Seigi’s first reaction on meeting Richard. From the beginning, he’s captivated by Richard’s beauty. He spends almost the whole of volume one internally monologuing about how beautiful Richard is. It’s all rather innocent, with no hints of lust, but he’s very poetic about it, and such musings make up a sizeable amount of the first novel’s narration. It reminded me somewhat of Basil and Henry talking about Dorien Gray.

Some of this is shown in the anime, particularly episode four, when Seigi’s praise annoys not just Richard, but a customer who quite clearly feels that her average appearance makes her worth less in terms of social status and romantic opportunities. In the episode, it’s used to teach Seigi a lesson about not valuing people by their looks. But it’s the first notable instance of the anime taking liberties with its use of novel content: in changing the order in which certain small things happen, it indirectly changes the developing nature of Seigi and Richard’s relationship.

In episode four, after scolding Seigi for his constant comments about beauty, Richard sends Seigi a string of messages which are extravagant compliments – Richard tells Seigi he is “a ball of charm” and says how much he enjoys Seigi’s company. It’s done, seemingly, to teach Seigi about how embarrassing it can be to receive unsolicited compliments, and at the end it looks like Seigi wants to speak to Richard about it, but he backs down, and it’s not mentioned again.

In the novel, this happens in chapter two – the same story with the gay woman who’s been trying to deny her feelings for her same-gender partner of seven years (!) by committing to a loveless marriage to a male colleague. After helping the woman to accept her identity and call off the marriage, Seigi is exchanging messages with Tanimoto-san, who he’s also just started getting to know in this chapter. During their text conversation, Seigi receives a string of messages from Richard:

“ Hello. This text is a bit long.

“I would like to take this opportunity to express everything I felt for you since we met.

“You are like the embodiment of charm that humans could roughly imagine.

“What deserves more mention than anything else is your frank disposition to sometimes praise people to the point of foolish honesty.

“Every time I see your working figure, my chest is filled with fragrant euphoria.”

Because of where it happens within the story – interrupting his conversation with a girl he likes – and because it comes after a story about same-sex relationships, it feels more like a confession from Richard, and it sets the tone for the ongoing conflict between Seigi’s feelings for Tanimoto and his developing feelings for Richard.

A few paragraphs later, Richard does clarify his reasons for sending the messages:

“Now, is this a good time for understanding the effects of careless praise?

“No matter how innocent and beautiful the words may be, it may not be taken as intended.

“If you repeat such careless and insensitive words and deeds, you will one day end up in a situation where you will have to pay a large sum of money. [I think this may be more like ‘It will cost you’.]

“I advise you to understand all of that and eradicate the cause of your careless remarks. Richard.”

Because the novels are written from Seigi’s perspective, we don’t get a clear insight into Richard’s actual feelings. What we have to do is infer them from the reactions Seigi describes. Fortunately, there are enough descriptions of Richard getting flustered by Seigi’s words to make it fairly clear that he thinks Seigi has romantic intentions behind his praise – there’s a wonderful moment in volume one where, after being praised by Seigi yet again, Richard leaves the room and goes into another room at the shop, and for a while Seigi hears odd noises. When Richard reappears, his face is flushed. Seigi says it sounded like he was “punching a pillow or something”, which Richard brushes off by saying he felt like “practising boxing” all of a sudden. Seigi is too naive to understand, but the reader is expected to appreciate that Richard is genuinely getting mixed signals from Seigi – he praises Richard’s beauty almost non-stop, but in such an open and honest way that it’s hard to tell if he actually is attracted to Richard, and he also talks about Tanimoto in similar terms.

For a while, it’s mildly amusing that Richard is flustered by Seigi’s praise and Seigi doesn’t understand the effect he’s having. Until chapter four of volume one, which is where the real foreshadowing of their future relationship begins.

Chapter four, ‘Diamond of Reminiscence’, centres on an older man who brings his late wife’s engagement ring to Jewellery Etranger to ask if it can be reworked into an item that he can wear. The ring is fire-damaged – the man’s wife died while trying to retrieve the ring from a house-fire. He changes his mind several times, but is eventually persuaded to have the diamond set in a tie-pin so that he can wear it to remember her by. The theme of the chapter is being able to remember a past relationship fondly while also being able to go on living in the present, without sadness – something which is perhaps reflected in Richard’s previous relationship, revealed incrementally in episodes eight to ten of the anime. At the end of the chapter, the customer sends a gift to Etranger – two Noritake teacups, white with single gold bands around them.

Gold bands. Like wedding rings.

A gift to Richard and Seigi.

See where I’m going?

These cups are visible several times in the anime, but with this story cut, their significance is almost invisible if you haven’t read the novels. In episode nine, when Saul is making tea in the Etranger kitchen, we see Seigi pull out two plain white cups – in the novel, Seigi specifically states that he selects those cups to keep Saul from using the Noritake ones. It’s also mentioned elsewhere in Seigi’s narration that the cups are never used for customers.

In cutting so much of the source material, the anime massively cuts out a lot of the development in Seigi and Richard’s relationship, so that in episode eight when they suddenly start talking about how much they like each other, it feels like it’s come almost from nowhere. A viewer could infer that this is a significant development when compared to Seigi’s other relationships with men – his friendship with Shimomura doesn’t have the same emotional depth, his senpai-kohai relationship with a former classmate was already lessened by distance and then soured when karate-senpai turned out to be a manipulative liar, and episode three hinted at Seigi’s troubled relationship with his father. When Seigi tells Richard, in episode seven, “I really like you,” it’s qualified by “and I owe you”, so even though Seigi looks anxious as he says it, it does lose its emotional significance. And since the anime has toned down Richard’s reactions to Seigi, making him more stoic and less easily flustered, it doesn’t feel quite so intense when Richard confesses that he also likes Seigi in episodes seven and eight.

Chapter four, the diamond case, is also the first in a long string of incidents in which other people mistake Seigi and Richard for a couple. In an attempt to learn about diamonds, Seigi goes to the jewellery section of a big department store to speak to a sales person, and ends up bumping into Richard and dragging him along. Seigi asks to see diamond jewellery for men, and the sales person brings out what looks like an engagement ring, puts it on his finger, and tells him “congratulations on the Shibuya ordinance,” a reference to a law granting recognition of civil partnerships between same-gender couples. Richard, once again, is flustered, and afterwards tells Seigi that if he should ever return to the store, he should tell the sales person that “the engagement was broken off”. Unlike the reader, Seigi doesn’t understand, and simply offers to buy Richard cake. We find out later that Tanimoto saw them together in the store and overheard Seigi’s offer, and also assumed that the two of them were dating. There are numerous more instances of people observing the two of them together and presuming that their closeness is an indication of a romantic relationship. It’s not done to make a joke, but rather to signal to the reader that their relationship is becoming more complex than a typical friendship between men or than a mentor-mentee relationship might be.

Which brings us to the most recent episode of the anime, and the mini-arc in which Seigi attempts to uncover the mystery of Richard’s inheritance. Richard, we learn, has been avoiding his family who want him to get married in order to inherit a diamond worth several million pounds. If he doesn’t marry (and marry a suitable candidate, at that) the diamond will be bequeathed to a charity. It cost Richard his only romantic relationship (that we know of) because his lover worried about eventually choosing the inheritance over Richard.

Once again, this is where the anime adaptation loses some of the nuance of the novels. When Richard describes his previous relationship, he tells the story without disclosing the gender of his lover. He also tells the story in third person, as if to distance himself somehow (but that’s another essay!). But the anime shows us, in flashback, Richard meeting with a woman at Cambridge university. So we know, but Seigi doesn’t, and for whatever reason has been working on the assumption that Richard’s lover was male. Perhaps this is confounded by Jeffrey’s assumption that Seigi is Richard’s new lover and that his sole reason for following Richard to England was to claim the inheritance.

In the anime, Jeffrey’s question about their relationship while they’re on the plane in episode nine is the first time we see someone honestly mistake them for a couple. Shimomura had previously assumed Richard was a woman; when he finds out otherwise, he no longer hints that Seigi should pursue his boss romantically. It’s played for laughs and then dropped. But in episodes nine and ten, we see Seigi playing along with Jeffrey’s assumption. We don’t know until Seigi actually yeets that honkin’ great rock that he intends to destroy it and ‘free’ Richard from the curse of the inheritance. The only reason we have to believe Seigi’s intentions are good is that we’ve seen Mr Ally Of Justice always do the right thing until now, even if it hurts him. 

Perhaps Seigi is playing along because he believes that Richard’s previous relationship was with a man; a relationship that Jeffrey had a hand in ending. He says as much to Richard, while he’s in the hotel with Richard taking care of him. Now, in the novel (this is from volume four), Richard is careful in correcting Seigi, and his response is along the lines of “I’m not ga- no, that would invite confusion. It’s more correct to say that I haven’t had a male lover before.” So it’s fairly clear that Richard isn’t denying the possibility. It’s more about circumstance than lack of attraction on his part. He goes on to describe instances where he showed affection or friendliness to other boys who mistook his actions for romantic behaviour and confessed to liking him, so maybe he’s shied away from being affectionate with men since then, but he never denies the possibility of not being straight, and the reader can infer that Seigi has been an exception for him.

What does the anime give us? Seigi referring to Richard’s lover as a “boyfriend”, whereupon the beautiful background music cuts, Richard gapes at him, they both go “what?” and Richard stands up to say “I’ve never had a male lover, okay?” 

If you know enough Japanese, you’ll hear Richard qualify the statement with something along the lines of “before”. But if you’re an English-speaking fan watching on Crunchyroll, the combination of the visuals (Richard standing up to speak, the open-mouthed gaping in shock), the music cutting out, and CR’s subs omitting the ‘before’ all combine to turn this into Richard essentially having a no-homo moment.

It’s not the first time Crunchyroll’s subtitles have had a similar effect. Remember Yuri On Ice and Victor mentioning “former lovers” only for CR to subtitle his dialogue as “former girlfriends”?
But it’s one in a series of small moments where the anime has toned down or glossed over or completely cut something that signals the development of Seigi and Richard’s relationship

I’ve written before about how an anime can cut the relationship element from its source material and still have a decent story. Dramatical Murder still has a meaty enough cyberpunk plot to make a decent twelve-episode series with almost all of its BL elements removed. But in the case of TCFOJR, cutting the romantic aspect and reducing it to jokes and misdirection actually does the story a disservice, and I think it’s why so many anime-only fans are currently confused about the nature of the story. The biggest ‘mystery’ of this mystery series is the nature of Seigi’s feelings for Richard. He’s made aware (because other people tell him) that he has come to love Richard, in volume four (adapted into episodes nine and ten of the anime), when he starts having a recurring dream about Richard by his bedside, leaning in as if about to kiss him. During Richard’s unexpected absence, Seigi is an absolute mess, and says so himself, and when Saul arrives to take over Jewellery Etranger, he can tell why. He asks Seigi, outright, “are you aware that you love him?” Tanimoto, in episode nine, hints at this, by telling Seigi he’s “heartbroken”. But since the anime has cut so much of the build-up, it really did feel like it came out of nowhere.

I can understand why so many anime-only fans are feeling confused by this story. I’ve read enough of the source material to know what’s been omitted and even I feel like the anime is lacking in this respect.

But there are some things worth remembering. Firstly, that the novels and the anime have never been labelled or marketed as BL. Secondly, that a story can be romantic without including kissing or outright confessions of being ‘in love’. Thirdly, that there are more ways to queer a relationship than by having two men or two women kiss each other.

Episode ten of the anime does at least give us the beautiful moment of Richard telling Seigi that he is a ‘special person’ to Richard, with an indirect admission of love before they hug – possibly the first moment of genuine physical contact between the two of them. It would have been nice to see more of the physical affection between them that’s in volume four of the novel – Richard hugging Seigi in his hotel bed while Seigi’s ill, Richard icing his hand to cool Seigi’s forehead, Seigi holding Richard’s hand to pass him the note. It would also have helped, I think, if we’d been made explicitly aware of just how far Seigi was prepared to go to save Richard from the ‘curse’ of his inheritance. Seigi honestly thinks he’s going to die, or at the very least be arrested and imprisoned – he prepares a message to send to his mother telling her to assume he’s dead, and he gives Richard the pudding recipe because he thinks he won’t be in Richard’s life anymore. The implication is that Richard and Seigi are becoming each other’s most important person, and whether that’s in a romantic sense or a platonic sense shouldn’t matter. There are tons of stories about male friendships, but not so many where the men involved are so open about how much they mean to each other, to the point of exchanging jewellery symbolic of engagement and marriage.

I could honestly spend several thousand words detailing all the romantic elements of the novel which have been cut or condensed to make the anime. Other people already have started cataloguing some of them. But I think it helps to think of the anime as an advertisement for the novels, rather than just an adaptation of them. Remember that the primary audience for this story is Japanese, and there are already nine volumes of the novel series available in Japan, with volume ten scheduled for later this year. That a lot of the nuance and subtlety hasn’t reached the non-Japanese audience is, at least in part, down to the inaccessibility of the source material for those of us who don’t read Japanese. Further reading of volumes 5-9 show how much further their relationship progresses, with Seigi actually admitting at one point that he is trying to work out whether his feelings for Richard might be romantic – he even goes so far as to say that he wants them to be.

I do, however, still feel that the anime has clear romantic elements. The OP and ED are romantic ballads with images of Seigi and Richard that frame the two of them as a pair, either close in the same shot or in mirrored shots with matching eyelines to show that they are looking at each other. In the OP, we have a shot of Seigi next to images of treasured memories – Seigi with friends, and with his grandmother’s ring. It’s followed immediately by a matching shot of Richard, but his first ‘treasured memory’ image is of Seigi. The ED is a love song with the English words “only for you” as a refrain, implying the close nature of their relationship and their status as each other’s most special person.

There are also subtle symbolic moments, such as Richard offering Seigi two gems to choose from in episode eight – an aquamarine, with connotations of angelic beauty, and ultramarine, a ‘beauty from across the sea’. Seigi chooses the angelic aquamarine before running off to see Tanimoto-san, leaving Richard to make preparations to leave Japan, feeling that Seigi has chosen someone else over him. Seigi literally has to cross oceans to find his own ultramarine, when Richard gives him clues to meet by a display of lapis lazuli. And while episode ten may have cut a lot, it still ends with the two of them exchanging an engagement ring and a white sapphire which was meant to be given to the spouse of the Claremont heir.

The romance in Jeweler Richard is subtle. There’s a theory that it was toned down so as not to hurt DVD sales by making it ‘too gay’. Which, again, warrants a whole separate essay about how stories about same-sex relationships are not only valid but actually essential, both for queer audiences to see ourselves included and for straight audiences to see our relationships normalised.

But it’s there. You have to look a little deeper to see it, and you have to be aware of things like romantic framing in film. And even if the relationship does not become explicitly a ‘boyfriend’ relationship or end up with a marriage, it is still definitely more complex than a friendship. Typical male friendships in modern media tend to be based on action – on men fighting side-by-side, or working together. The theory goes that male friends bond by ‘doing’ together rather than by ‘being’ together. So far, the anime has shown Richard and Seigi ‘doing’ stuff – solving mysteries, going undercover – but there’s also been a fair amount of them just ‘being’ together – Richard finding Seigi after the final run-in with his karate club senpai to give Seigi an opportunity to cry out his feelings, Richard and Seigi having heartfelt conversations, and even just multiple instances of them going out to eat together. How often, in stories and in real life, do we see two men go to a restaurant together without it being a date, a working lunch, or refuelling before or after a fight?

Richard and Seigi simply ‘are’ together, whether doing or being. They come as a set. Much like a pair of Noritake teacups with single gold bands.

* I’m trying to avoid saying things like ‘more than just friends’ or ‘just platonic’ because I don’t want to imply that friendship and platonic relationships are worth any less than romance or sexual relationships, and I’m very open to the idea of Richard and Seigi having a queerplatonic relationship rather than a romantic or sexual relationship.

Tumblr user particularfangirl has posted a translation of a short excerpt from volume four of the novels, specifically the part where Seigi and Richard exchange their gems, which happened right before the final credits of episode 10. It’s worth a read to see how much clearer the romance is in the novels.

Tumblr user silverangel19 catalogued the key romantic moments from volume four which were cut from or condensed in episode 10.

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks for this write up. When I saw the preview for this anime way back, my immediate thought was that it looked VERY gay. I watched the first ep when it aired and then did a little digging on the novels to see what I could find, but not much information was available then. Decided to circle back later and see if it turned out to be gay or not, and now here I am lol. After reading this, I think I will give the anime a shot, but I hope that a publisher picks up the novels for translation because it sounds like they are the better way to experience the story (and gayer.) Again, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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